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Published December 21, 2013, 05:21 PM

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus ornament: Fargo woman fills home with Christmas cheer

FARGO - She hears it all the time, but she really doesn’t need the affirmation.

By: John Lamb, INFORUM

FARGO - She hears it all the time, but she really doesn’t need the affirmation.

Virginia Dambach knows full well there is a Santa Claus. She lives with hundreds of them.

Jolly old St. Nicks of all shapes and sizes are the focus of her extensive collection of Christmas decorations.

How many thousands of ornaments, angels, icons, statues, bells, balls, lights, mugs and assorted other jingle-jangles does she have?

“Oh, we don’t want to know,” she says gravely. “Half the time I can’t even remember what I have. Even opening the boxes and unpacking the decorations is like my own private Christmas getting to see all the ornaments again. Getting the ornaments out, I really don’t need another present.”

O’ Christmas tree

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a peek into her living room is like Santa shouting, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” in your face.

And still, that’s not emphatic enough.

“This is the smallest tree I’ve ever had,” she says sheepishly as she invites you in to her living room.

This year’s Fraser fir brushes up against the 9-foot ceiling. Proof of taller Christmas trees past remain on the ceiling, scratched, smudged and marred where the highest bough bowed over. This year the star isn’t perched on the tippy-top, but rather secured to the side.

She recalls her dream tree from a few years ago, 9 feet tall and 9 feet wide.

“It was hard to get around it,” says her husband, Bob.

The problem this year is that the tree is somewhat slender, and the braches aren’t firm enough to hold her usual load of illumination.

“I was only able to get three-fourths of the ornaments on the tree,” she says.

Decorating the main floor of their Hawthorne Neighborhood home in Fargo starts the weekend after Thanksgiving, when the garland goes up. Then a squadron of Santa Clauses is assembled on the mantle.

“The big tree,” always a real one, is the first one up, but by this time of the year at least five others are erected.

There’s a white one across the living room, and a patriotic, red-white-and-blue variety in the family room. In the dining room stands a pair of food-themed trees, one a veritable fruit tree, decorated in apples, pineapples and bananas. Next to it is one filled with

candy bars, hamburgers, corn dogs, pizza slices, tacos, soda, beer, cake, pie and even a TV dinner.

It takes her a week to decorate “the big tree” in stages.

“I finally got to know when it’s done, just keep hanging,” she says. “The big tree” alone takes 10 strands of 100 lights.

As of earlier this week she was pretty much done, though a few ornaments will keep trickling in.

“My husband thought (the tree) was full when we got married. He was wrong,” says Virginia, whose collection has boomed over the past 30 years. “I just like ornaments.”

She picks up decorations on nearly every trip she takes. She recalls a vacation to Germany when she visited different Christmas markets each day.

“I died and went to heaven,” she says.

A recent jaunt to New Jersey saw her return home with a glass sea urchin ornament.

“I don’t spend nearly as much as I used to,” she says. “It has to be pretty special now.”

And some decorations she cherishes more than others. A stuffed Santa on the mantle is one of her treasured childhood memories.

“He’s the first Santa I can remember,” she says.

Nearby is a smaller, carved Kris Kringle that Bob made for her. On the tree hang dried chili peppers and okra that her father painted to look like Santa. These are starting to break up, but she’ll keep putting them on the tree until they fall apart.

“My dad was majorly into Christmas,” she says and shows a needle-point greeting he made that hangs over the door.

For all of her work decorating, there have been a few Christmas disasters. Like the year the tree died and dropped its needles a week before Christmas. She hung the ornaments on lines across a room like a clothesline while a new tree was bought.

Then there was the time the tree fell with a terrible crash.

“Bob said I hung one too many on one side,” she said. Now she ties the trees to the walls.

The falling pine crushed a number of ornaments, including a prized Christopher Radko piece of blown glass.

Bob used the ornament remains and built a memorial to the fallen tree.

“Every year I break a few ornaments, which is sad. But mostly I don’t cry anymore,” she says.

And Bob has learned not to grumble as much.

“The only thing I don’t like is when she brings the tree in. I’ve been banished from that,” he says. “She always gets the tree that is three inches taller than it should be and paints the ceiling green.”

Bob has since made her a 9-foot pole so she can tell how it will measure up in her room.

Still, he has his favorite ornaments, like the pickles in the trees, one for each family member to find, allowing them to open a gift early.

He admits his favorite day is when “the big tree” is taken down.

“I walk back in and it’s like the room is twice the size,” he says.

“He usually complains bitterly about the tree,” Virginia says. “On one hand he hates it. On the other hand, he expects it, too.”

“I might be a Grinch or a little grumpy at times, but it’s festive. It’s very nice,” he says. “And you never have to worry about what to get her Christmas. You can always get her an ornament or a Santa Claus.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

John Lamb at (701) 241-5533